Self-contained female performers have always been a rarity in R&B, so when one comes along, overreaction is perhaps inevitable. In 2001, plenty of those who heard Alicia Keys were so knocked out by the preternaturally poised 19-year-old pianist that they failed to notice that much of the music from Songs in A Minor was, well, minor. Minus the hype, her second album reveals her weaknesses -- still too many vamps dependent on Keys' keyboard chops. But the entries in this Diary also contain a few of the classic tunes missing from her Grammy-winning debut.
For one of them, Keys has to swipe the melody from Burt Bacharach's "Walk On By" -- which she gives a good home, fattening it up with gospel hollers and palpable longing. "If I Ain't Got You" climbs its ascending melody straight into Philly soul heaven. The centerpiece, though, is "You Don't Know My Name," a fantasy aimed straight at every unrequited lover. The tune eavesdrops on a phone call between Keys -- "the waitress from the coffeehouse" -- and a customer with whom she's smitten.
Kelis, meanwhile, seems the sort of performer Keys' success was a reaction against. A singer of average technical gifts, she has a bio that reads like that of any of a dozen R&B vixens hoping for a little Neptunes magic. But not only does no one push the Neptunes' future funk further than Kelis; on her third album, the Harlem-born wild child also inspires greatness among other collaborators, including Rockwilder and neo-soul man Raphael Saadiq.
Over the wildly oscillating synth-bass of "Milkshake," Kelis taunts the boys: "They lose their minds/The way I whine." A full taste of Tasty proves that's no idle boast.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.